“Be Proactive: Strategies For Reigning In Negative Opinions”, by Evan Hackel

July 21, 2010

We are pleased to have an invited guest author posting to our online reputation management Blog today.  Evan Hackel is the principal founder and president of Ingage Consulting.

The firm works with organizations with groups of members, such as trade associations, manufacturing and/or distribution groups, franchises, cooperatives, buying groups, and dealer networks. They inspire members and, importantly, enhance customer loyalty and customer success.

We view this post as preventive measures to take to insure a business’s online and offline reputation. There will be no need to call on us with urgent online reputation repair projects to remove negative web pages or restore a broken reputation in the case of crisis management because these internal and external groups have not properly communicated the company’s mission from the Board Of Directors right down to employee members. Think BP…you’ll get the message. We hope you enjoy Mr. Hackel’s contribution.

Writing below by: Evan Hackel

President, Ingage Consulting

Throughout his twenty-five year career, Mr. Hackel has seen the need not only for improved engagement, but for an understanding of why engagement plays such an important role in any organization.  Evan’s company works closely with the managers and leaders of franchises, co-ops, and buying groups, to help them improve their business practices.

Everyone’s heard the stories about the upset customer who’s gone online and posted something negative about a company on Facebook or Twitter or some blog; one little comment can have a significant, negative impact on that company.  Ingage Consulting works with clients who have networks of businesses which are essential to their success. 

As you can imagine, when a business customer says something negative about your company, although heard by only a few, the impact on your company can be significant and major as your business customers network and work with other business customers.  It is critical that companies with significant networks of businesses create a culture and system that enables their business-customer base to express concerns in a positive fashion without the need to attack the company publicly on the Internet.

Whether a business customer wants to say something negative or something positive about an organization, it is important for management to make sure that this person is engaged inside the company as opposed to outside of the company.  If a customer broadcasts something negative outside the organization’s system, it can be searched on the Internet and found by potential customers.  Any negative information about your brand is sure to be seen on the Internet and spread by word of mouth.  In order to prevent this and protect your organization’s reputation, you need to be proactive.

The best way to protect your organization’s reputation is by creating internal discussion boards.  These are run on the company’s intranet and are accessible to all members of the customer group.  Having an internal discussion board is a much better alternative to not having one when a member wants to voice a negative opinion.  In an internal discussion board, group members can be candid and say what is on their mind.  There needs to be no fear of punishment for voicing their opinion or they certainly will not trust the intranet and will resort to a more public forum. 

An internal discussion board can save your business from online embarrassment, but only if it is actively used.  If you have an internal discussion board that no one in the organization uses, the risk is that people will see that it is unused and will go to an outside discussion board where they will get responses to their postings.

The lesson to be learned is that if you’re going to have an internal discussion board, make sure it is done right so that it can become active.  The best way to do this is to form a committee of participants which management facilitates.  This committee is in place to decide what topics should appear on the discussion board and is responsible for starting lively discussions on these topics.  This committee should have a high level of dedication to the discussion board and its success. 

An internal discussion board can still be successful even if someone posts something negative.  And when someone does post something negative, there are a few ways to handle this. 

First, management needs to ask themselves ‘is this person right or wrong?’  If the person is wrong in their negative discussion about the organization, allow the internal community to self-police.  Most of the time, members of the community will say that they do not agree with the negative comment and this way, it is not management disputing the person’s point, but their peers in the community. 

This first solution of course, is based on the assumption that the intranet is actively used.  The danger of an inactive intranet is that negative comments will linger on the site.  If you do not promote your online community, there will be no one reading it to police the discussion boards.

Alternatively, if someone posts something negative that is correct and accurate, this provides a good opportunity for management to come back and acknowledge that the person is right.  No company is perfect; management should not be afraid to acknowledge a flaw, say they appreciate the comment, and discuss what they are doing about the problem.  This will show that management is paying attention to the opinions of those in the organization and that they are taking action. 

Ultimately, the more active an internal discussion board is, the more opportunities management will have to get involved and foster engagement. With a successful discussion board, an organization will no longer have to worry about negative publicity on the internet.  Being proactive and preventing negative publicity is a good way to protect your brand online. 

Do you have a safe, internal place for business customers to have discussions?   How is it working?  In your experience, when negative comments are wrong, do others come to the defense of the company? [End]

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